How often would you say you’re “happy?” Hopefully you’ve got great stuff going on in your life and feelings of happiness are prevalent for you, along with the inevitable funky stuff that life also brings our way. You know I love you in darker moments as well, but today I want us to get happy.
Or not, as it turns out. Loving language as I do, I’ve been thinking about that little word lately and how infrequently I actually use it to describe myself. Sure, I’ll say I’m “so happy for you” in response to someone’s good news, or “Happy Friday” to people who work a Monday to Friday workweek and welcome the weekend, but as a description of mood and feeling, WTF does “happy” even mean, anyway?
So, these are a few of my favorite words that feel like what “happy” ought to be. To paraphrase Judy Garland, forget your troubles and come on and get you some!
This is a bit obvious and can feel corny, but joy really is the bee’s knees. In the interest of cultivating joy and increasing it in my life, I take note of the moments when I feel joyful. Joy, to me, commands my attention. It’s not passive, but it needn’t be aggressive either. Joy doesn’t march into my heart and smash sadness like Emotions Hulk or a bull in a china shop; it just feels so bright that it makes it difficult to see lesser emotions when it’s shining.
Sometimes I’ll have a need for something, and when I look for it in the place where I think I had put it and find that it’s there, I feel like the richest person in the world. Even if the thing in question is as not-rich as a bra I haven’t worn in a while, or a particular soup ladle, or a pen. It’s a feeling of abundance, of having what I need, and when I need it to boot. On top of having what I need, I also have many things that I want, which is an incredible blessing.
That’s how I’d like to be in the world; I want to be of use to the world I inhabit, to “have things” to contribute to the universe, both needs and wants, and to be able to be there right on time. I want to not feel depleted by giving, but to feel renewed and possessing of deep wells of resources. Not “bottomless” or “endless” or any other such fairy tale, but deep and enough. That’s abundance.
I’m presently living in a place that I don’t like. I mean my physical apartment and the neighborhood it’s in, and the state that that is in. Of course nothing is all bad, but I’m in a living situation that was an emergency solution to a housing situation falling through, and I have to remind myself that it’s only temporary.
I long to feel settled. That word is used frequently in the context of where we live, settling down, etc, and while that is true for me right now in the literal sense because disliking where I live is a constant drain on my spirit, it is also possible to feel internally settled even in unsettling circumstances and surroundings. It’s such a gift to feel an internal peace of mind or sense of resolve, when so much of life can be like an automated pitching machine at a batting cage that exclusively throws curveballs.
If feeling settled means an internal sense of resolve, I think of tranquility as leveling up. The problem with aiming for tranquility is that the more I try to make it happen, the more effort I put into it, which doesn’t usually end well. I can’t wrestle calmly, so that tranquil feeling I love so much is more often than not noticed first as the absence of some other conflicting mindpoop.
There’s nothing wrong with getting worked up when something or someone is working your nerves, and hopefully there are lots of tranquil moments to balance those times out. For me, I notice myself breathing and moving at an almost imperceptibly slower rate than usual when calmness is resonating from within, and it is glorious.
While tranquility tends to resonate for me in physical stillness and calmness, feeling centered happens for me as a gut feeling, an internal pull as though I’m tethered to something that is larger than myself. Being centered means less wavering in my opinions and thoughts, and even if I’m unsure about something or in a moment of strife, there’s a feeling within that I won’t veer off too far in any direction, and I definitely won’t fall over.
Even if I don’t have THE answer to a question at the moment, feeling centered means I know it will come. Or the situation will otherwise resolve itself. Or maybe it will get worse —shit happens, but the world will not end.
I’m not aware of ever walking down the street with my arms actually wide open à la Creed’s 90’s earworm anthem, but there is a feeling of openness that brings me such peace and calm when it takes over my spirit. When my days involve so much sitting and scrutiny of often tiny text on my various devices, even my good posture is sometimes coaxed into the unpleasantness of hunching, and remembering to drop my shoulders every now and again makes a world of difference.
The physical sensation of opening up my clavicle area translates to a larger sense of emotional openness, of not walking around in invisible armor, waiting for the next incoming attack from the world at large. It can be incredibly difficult to achieve this, but moving through even a small part of my day feeling open, shoulders back and chin up, feels like freedom.
To move through the world feeling available is to say yes to opportunities you aren’t even aware of yet. I so associate the word with positive requests for my time and energy that I’ll sometimes repeat the three words “I am available” to myself as an affirmation, willing more such requests to come my way.
It also shifts my energy to viewing the world as bearing things for me, things that I am available to receive. These “things” could be as undefined as peace of mind, as life-changing as a major work contract, or as frivolous as a deep discount on some cute shoes at DSW, and I am here and ready to receive all of it.
One of the biggest markers of depression is isolation, and it is among that class of symptoms-that-may-be-causes-and-also-results, with each person experiencing it differently as it often compounds upon itself. For me, a very social extrovert and empath, feeling isolated or disconnected from those around me quickly manifests as emotional tragedy.
Particularly when I’m surrounded by other people, not feeling any sense of connection whatsoever to them or my surroundings exacerbates any sadness and loneliness that was waiting in the wings for someone to shine a spotlight on them. Bonus points if I’m in a large mass of strangers, like on NYC public transportation, not feeling connected. That feels dreadful.
Conversely, feeling connected does not require intimacy or even familiarity with every other person in any given subway car with me. I don’t usually like to define something by its absence, but for me, feeling plugged in to my surroundings does often come after the realization of feeling not unplugged.
Again, Disney Princess-style connection to one’s surroundings, where you hold out your hand and a canary lands on your index finger and you sing a duet together, is not a realistic goal, so I’m content with simply feeling like I am of this Earth, with the humanity in me saluting the humanity of those around me.
Does the word “full” conjure up memories of the last really big meal you had? That’s all well and good (and hopefully delicious), but I’m talking about fullness of spirit. I like this feeling so much because it reminds me just how cockamamie our emotions can be, and to honor them in their rawness and honesty without judgement or a search for logic.
Consider that logically, #6 and #7 on this list would require a degree of emptiness—after all, you can’t add something to a space that is already full, just like you can’t park your car until you find an available spot.
Those are the rules of the finite world, but what if love can be bigger than a Buick sedan but take up no physical space and not weigh you down? What if the more joy is piled onto your shoulders the more lighter you feel? What if tons and tons of connectedness have you practically floating down the street, light as a feather?
It is nothing short of miraculous to me how both emptiness and fullness of spirit compound upon themselves instead of responding directly to what might seem like logic. Throw a bunch of stuff onto an empty spirit, like booze or drugs or being in a crowd, and it doesn’t get filled up, it only gets emptier.
And that fullness of spirit? It will morph and grow in ways that will always make room for more. By any name, and however it feels for you, joy begets joy and there’s always room for more.